Saturday, 12 May 2018

Electoral Commission ~ Leave.EU Group Ltd

Leave.EU has been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission for breaches of electoral law during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.  The investigation concluded that Leave.EU incorrectly reported what it spent at the EU referendum. It exceeded its statutory spending limit (£700,000) and delivered incomplete and inaccurate spending and transaction returns.

Leave.EU is not a political party but it was a registered campaigner, though not the designated lead,  in the Referendum campaign.  The designated lead was Vote Leave.

The Commission found that:

  • Leave.EU failed to include a minimum of £77,380 in its spending return, thereby exceeding its spending limit by more than 10%. The Commission is satisfied that the actual figure was in fact greater, given the failure to report an appropriate proportion of the cost of services provided by Goddard Gunster.
  • Leave.EU did not correctly report the receipt of three regulated transactions from Mr Arron Banks, totalling £6million. The dates the transactions were entered into, the repayment date, the interest rate and the provider of the transactions were all incorrectly reported.
  • Leave.EU paid for services from the US campaign strategy firm Goddard Gunster that should have been reported in its spending return but were not.
  • Leave.EU failed to include in its referendum spending return, spending of £77,380 in fees paid to the company Better for the Country Limited as its campaign organiser.
  • Leave.EU failed to provide the required invoice or receipt for 97 payments of over £200, cumulatively totalling £80,224.
Through its investigation, the Commission also has reasonable grounds to suspect that the responsible person for Leave.EU committed criminal offences and she has therefore been referred to the Metropolitan Police.

Bob Posner, Electoral Commission Director of Political Finance and Regulation & Legal Counsel, said:

“The rules we enforce were put in place by Parliament to ensure transparency and public confidence in our democratic processes. It is therefore disappointing that Leave.EU, a key player in the EU referendum, was unable to abide by these rules. Leave.EU exceeded its spending limit and failed to declare its funding and its spending correctly.  These are serious offences. The level of fine we have imposed has been constrained by the cap on the Commission’s fines.”


Given the controversial nature of Brexit, it is hardly surprising that some are claiming that the overspend has in some way negatived the outcome of the referendum - e.g. Jon Danzig here. However, the Electoral Commission report does not comment on this.

Danzig points to ‘The Code of Good Practice on Referendums’ issued by the Venice Commission in which it is stated (para 3.3) that if the cap on spending is exceeded in a referendum by a significant amount, “the vote must be annulled.”  The Code, which is a non-binding guideline, was adopted by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in 2006/2007.

Parliament could - if it were minded to do so - conduct its own analysis of the significance of these breaches and Parliament could determine the response to any findings.  However, at the time of writing, there seems to be little political appetite to do so.

Vote Leave:

In November 2017 the Electoral Commission issued – Statement regarding Vote Leave Ltd, Mr Darren Grimes and Veterans for Britain Ltd.   The Statement notes that - 

“The opening of this investigation follows a review of previous assessments that the Electoral Commission conducted in February and March 2017 which, at the time, resulted in no further action being taken. Since that time, new information has come to light which, when considered alongside the information obtained previously, has given the Commission reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed.”


September 2016 EU referendum report

Statement by Electoral Commission 11th May  2018

Report on an investigation in respect of the Leave.EU Group Limited 

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